Doctorkev’s Autumn 2021 Anime Postmortem Part 2

Jan 11 · 13 min read
Prince Bojji goes all Arya Stark with a needle-like sword (hopefully he won’t end up quite as murdery…)

18 shows in a season is too much for a working adult to cope with, but Autumn 2021 contained so many good shows I was only able to drop one. We’ll get to that later. You can read my final impressions of the first nine shows here, this second half has been a little delayed, partly because some of these shows didn’t finish (legally) airing until early 2022, and one has delayed its final episodes until the end of March. I’m not waiting that long!

Caked in the blood of her enemies, emotionless husk (and world-saving hero) Ruti just wants to feel something. Anything.

Banished from the Hero’s Party: Funimation, 13 episodes

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, considering I almost didn’t bother watching it. Although it pretends to be a slow slice of life show in a similar genre to something like I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, it’s far more interesting. Killing Slimes was entertaining but vacuous — empty calories, if you will. Banished, however, is full of meaty chunks to chew on and digest, not something I expected from the premise.

Red is a retired “Guide” who left his sister’s (the titular Hero’s) adventuring party to lead a slow life in the countryside, along with his besotted friend and runaway princess Rit. He opens an apothecary, makes friends with the local townsfolk and romances Rit. And if it had stayed as simply that, it probably would have been entertaining enough. For once, this is an anime romance that actually goes somewhere, and that alone is refreshing.

However, Banished takes a detailed, deep look at its world’s underlying class-based mechanics, where people are born with god-ordained “blessings” that govern their skills and what kind of role they will fulfil in society, not to mention the eventual shape of their personality. Often these blessings seem more of a curse, as acting in violation of one’s blessing’s impulses causes stress, and even pain. The stronger the power granted by the blessing, the harder it rides roughshod over your free will.

Red’s sister Ruti, as the Hero, must devote her entire life to fighting the Demon Lord. She’s impervious to damage, so can’t feel pain. But as she’s also impervious to hot and cold, she can’t feel temperature. She no longer needs to eat or sleep, so can’t taste food, dream or feel refreshed after a good sleep. She can’t feel emotion anymore. Her life is a living hell, with an existence subsumed entirely by her blessing’s powerful influence, and her story is truly unsettling. Buried beneath her terrifyingly flat demeanor is a lonely little girl, internally screaming to be reunited with the brother she loves. I could never have predicted how intelligent and interesting Banished would turn out to be, nor that it would become one of this season’s highlights.

A fairly normal teenage reaction to your first experience with nude models

Blue Period: Netflix, 12 episodes

What a great anime. I thoroughly enjoyed this grounded, emotional show about a teenage boy growing into his passion for art. So empathetic it’s painful to watch at times, Blue Period absolutely nails the psychological traps that ensnare creative people — impostor syndrome, loss of confidence, crippling anxiety with severe somatic symptoms, self-doubt, indecision, frustrated ambition and pathological self-deprecation. Between main character Yatora and his eclectic group of friends, rivals and mentors, we meet all sorts of interesting people including the conflicted, striking Yuka, and Best Art Teacher Mayu Oba.

There’s very little in the way of heightened, exaggerated drama, unlike other school-based anime. Yatora’s struggles are understated yet realistic, dredging up similar memories of my own attempts to win creative recognition in a confusing, mercurial world. The show ends on an upbeat note, but I’m desperate to know what happens next. There’s plenty more of the source manga left to adapt, so here’s hoping for a season 2, sooner rather than later.

Gremlin invasion! New character Bee is energetic and squeaky. Is there a law demanding that every fantasy show must have at least one of these?

The Faraway Paladin: Crunchyroll, 12 episodes

This nominally-isekai fantasy show started well but I felt it petered out a bit towards the end. It’s telling that the progenitor light novel’s author originally only plotted out the initial arc (covered in episodes 1–5), as that’s by far the strongest, most interesting (and self-contained) segment of the season. By the time main character Will has left his sweet, undead family behind, it becomes a much more generic sword and sorcery fantasy that erred on the side of plodding dullness.

Although Paladin shares much thematically with season-mate Mushoku Tensei, it isn’t anywhere near as accomplished a production. Paladin lacks MT’s incredible attention to detail, skilfully concentrated storytelling and unobtrusive yet logical and fascinating world-building. Paladin’s world has its intriguing aspects, such as the concepts regarding its multiple deities, but hides these behind a workmanlike adaptation that flattens viewer interest and engagement. Perhaps another season might help to deepen the story, I’d be willing to give it another chance.

Despite appearances, Komi is not a serial killer sizing up her next victim.

Komi Can’t Communicate: Netflix, 12 episodes

I was really looking forwards to this one, mainly due to the buzz surrounding the manga. Because of the Netflix translation delay, the episodes were delayed a couple of weeks from their original Japanese TV broadcast, so the show didn’t (legally) finish showing in the west until the first week in January. Apart from some glaring issues with Netflix’s subtitles (discussed in my earlier seasonal article), overall Komi more or less sticks the landing.

With a cast populated by the weirdest schoolkids this side of Urusei Yatsura (somewhat incredibly itself receiving a new anime adaptation later this year — rejoice!), Komi is a gentle but repetitive character-based comedy. Komi herself is always a delight, with her adorable cat-ears that poke up whenever she is enthused or excited. Her struggles with social interaction are relatable, even if somewhat exaggerated.

Most of the characters are more-or-less one-note caricatures, but despite this they are (mostly) fun. “Everyone’s childhood friend” Najimi is a somewhat problematic character who seems to be a cross-dressing troll rather than a realistically trans-coded individual. I didn’t find him offensive so much as irritating, though others’ mileage may vary. Main POV-character Tadano is relatable as one of the only “normal” people in the cast, and his heightened empathy for Komi’s plight makes him easy to root for. The central friendship is well-developed, and hints towards an eventual romance (not that I think Komi is anywhere near ready for such emotional intimacy any time soon).

Overall, Komi (the show) is very respectful towards the likely neurodivergent Komi (character). Much of the humour is mined from the other ridiculous characters’ reactions to her completely innocent, shy actions. She is rarely the butt of jokes, and certain later developments are really heartwarming as she begins to exit her constraining, overly-introverted shell. As the parent of an autistic child, I really appreciate that no-one tries to change who she is — she is clearly accepted by her classmates, even if they don’t understand her — any changes her character undergoes are rooted in her own desires to develop, and make new friends. That Tadano is such a great support for her makes him MVP of the season for me. I’m glad that a second season is coming in April. (That was quick — it’s almost as if it’s secretly a split-cour show…)

Jolene Kujo — the first Female “JoJo”. She is wonderful.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 6: Stone Ocean: Netflix, 12 episodes

While Netflix released Komi and Blue Period weekly, for some reason they spewed all 12 episodes of this first part of Stone Ocean out all at once. Of all of these shows, I think Jojo is the one worst suited to binge-watching. And I say this as someone who loves Jojo. But it’s just so exhausting. Every previous season I watched one or two episodes at a time, and that is absolutely the correct way to consume this hyper-exaggerated, neon-drenched, utterly bat-shit-mental franchise. Seriously, I tried watching four episodes of Stone Ocean in quick succession and I felt like a kid who’d eaten every single one of his halloween candies at once. Dizzy, nauseous and slightly unwell. You can have too much of a good thing at once. Anyway, lesson learned, I’m never bingeing Jojo again. It made my head spin.

This time our primary Joestar family representative is Jolyne Kujo, daughter of part 3 and 4’s Jotaro Kujo (you know, the Fist of the North Star-looking guy with the hat that inexplicably blends with his hair). She’s imprisoned in a high-security Florida jail (surrounded by toothy lizards that the subs and dub can’t agree on whether they’re crocodiles or alligators) for a crime she didn’t commit. For various plot reasons, she ends up with a Stand (supernatural external manifestation of her soul that gives her superhuman abilities) but unfortunately, so do some of the other guards and inmates.

The stage is set for more improbable battles involving galaxy-brain strategies, lurid violence and unpredictable twists. Of course there’s a despicable bad guy manipulating everyone in the background, but the main focus is on far-fetched goofiness and unbelievably stylish (if impractical) character designs. So far I’ve found it more fun than Part 5 — Golden Wind, though it remains to be seen if it can scale the heights of my personal favourite Jojo arc, Part 4 — Diamond is Unbreakable.

The true MVP — Queen Hiling.

Ranking of Kings: Funimation, 11 of 23 episodes

No doubt about it, this is the best anime of the year. It came out of nowhere, with it’s jaunty opening song, fairy-tale stylings and kiddie-ish character designs to mow down all opposition to its crown. This tale of a disabled (deaf and mute, physically weak) boy who is the true heir to his kingdom’s throne is full of joy, despair, wonder, complex characters and devastating plot twists.

Not a single character is as simple as they first appear, and the entire thing seems immaculately constructed like the finest, most precise clockwork. Despite obfuscation of most of the cast’s true motivations, they remain compelling and interesting people, especially stern (but incredibly loving) stepmother Queen Hiling. For a someone set up to look like a stereotypical evil step-parent, she has evolved into one of the most empathetic characters — imperfect, but determined to do her best by both of her sons.

Ranking of Kings is the only show I’m watching dubbed this season, with my 10-year-old son. Some of the content is quite violent, but so far he seems to have enjoyed it. The dub is high quality, though currently runs about 5 weeks behind the subs. The wait for each new episode is excruciating!

As expected of the premium quality Wit Studio, the calibre of animation is at times astonishing, despite the superficially simplistic character designs. Action scenes zing and pop with electrifying energy, while others bubble over with mystery and intrigue. Just what is the mirror lady Miranjo’s story? What was the true price of Prince Bojji’s father’s deal with a devil? What are snake master Bebin’s true motivations? Why is King Bosse such an asshole? What is the Ranking of Kings, and why do the winners go insane?

Little prince Bojji is a delightful lead character, ably supported by best little shadow assassin Kage. Their interactions build into a truly heartwarming friendship that’s a joy to watch develop. Although the first cour’s opening song is great, the second, upcoming cour’s is spectacularly well-suited. You know your show is special when even the OP track can make your viewers cry.

War is bad for your mental health, children, mmkay?

86: EIGHTY-SIX: Crunchyroll, 21 of 23 episodes

Oh boy, did the production fall apart on this one. For a while, we only got fortnightly rather than weekly episodes, then the news came that the final two episodes were delayed to the end of March. For as dense a show as this, such an erratic schedule is like a death-knell for the casual viewer. In fact, it would probably have been better not to watch any of this season until the whole thing was available, then binge it all in one unholy splurge of brutal warfare and existential angst.

I’ve very mixed feelings on the second half of 86, as although it has felt more cohesive and focused than the first half, the scheduling troubles derailed the momentum for me. I’ll probably hold off on commenting further until the final episodes are available, once I’ve been able to absorb the whole thing. I want to love this show, I hope the ending facilitates that.

The sadistic Daki, Demon Oiran (high-class prostitute)

Demon Slayer: Mugen Train Arc (7 episodes) and Entertainment District arc (5 of 11 episodes) — Crunchyroll/Funimation

Mugen Train worked much better as an incredibly-animated (yet oddly-structured movie) than as this drawn-out, bitty TV version that has no reason to exist other than money. The anime-original first episode was fun but throwaway, and the double-length epilogue/first episode of the next arc seemed to wallow unnecessarily in grief for a character who never received enough development to justify the waterworks shed by every member of Demon Slayer’s cast.

The Entertainment District arc is fun so far, though remains full of slapstick, shouting and weird facial expressions. If I was twelve, I would probably find this hysterical, but as a grown adult it’s all too juvenile. Zenitsu’s screeching tends to make me grit my teeth and roll my eyes rather than laugh. It does seem weird that a show whose humour is targeted so clearly at pre-teens is set in Taisho period (1912–1926) Japan’s red light district, with blatant references to prostitution (in addition to all the bloody violence and murder). One of the new characters, “Sound Hashira” Tengen Uzui is a polygamist with three wives, and that just seems unnecessarily skeevy to me. As is common with Demon Slayer characters, he has one main defining, repetitive, character quirk, and that is his flamboyance, demanding that everything be “flashy”. It quickly becomes irritating.

Our main trio of characters are forced to crossdress to infiltrate three different brothels, and it’s hilarious that everyone assumes Zenitsu and Tanjiro are really ugly girls, rather than male spies. This kind of humour seems incredibly outdated now, but it still makes me smirk a little, if only because gruff Inosuke is told to shut up because his voice is so deep — he passes very well as female because he’s otherwise beautiful without his boar head!

Most of this arc’s episodes so far have been setup, though the main villain has been introduced already, and she certainly is a nasty piece of work. We know this because she even beats up little girls! Boo! Hiss! Demon Slayer is not a show of nuanced antagonists with justifiable motivations. No, they are evil demons. Sometimes we learn the antagonists’ sob stories before Tanjiro et al beat them to a bloody, decapitated pulp, but this isn’t true character development. I get the feeling the author merely jams things into the story because they seem cool, not because of any plot-related grand plan, hence the rapid back-pedalling in terms of empathy and hand-waving towards the end of each arc.

I do understand how Demon Slayer is as popular as it is — unique aesthetics, technically spectacular action animation, simple good-versus-evil morality and larger-than-life characters go a long way to mask a very thin story. It also remains a source of frustration to me that the main female character, Nezuko, is barely referenced in most episodes. She’s merely a plot device in a box. Although overall I still find Demon Slayer fun, it’s always one of the last shows I watch week to week.

Nasse’s shiny angel derriere is about the only watchable part of this show.

Platinum End: Crunchyroll/Funimation, 9 out of 24 episodes — dropped

I’m sorry, I tried. I really did. But when each successive episode of this dire, humourless, embarrassingly edgy death game show found yet more ways to make me unhappy, I dropped it. Platinum End is a horrible show. Cursed with the blandest, most infuriating protagonist I have ever been forced to endure watching, and full of nasty, mean-spirited plot “twists”, dropping the unrewarding endurance test that is Platinum End has made my soul feel lighter. If you’ve not yet considered watching this, don’t. And if you are watching it, and intend to continue watching until the conclusion of the final episode at the end of the inexplicably-existing second cour in Winter 2022, then I probably don’t want to know you.

Sorry to leave Autumn 2021 on a downer when much of the rest of the season was so great, but sometimes it’s best to end with a reminder of one’s mistakes, if only so they aren’t repeated. Winter 2022’s season is looking to be substantially lighter than any from overstuffed 2021’s. I’m looking forward to catching up on some older shows that I’ve not had time to watch because of the sheer volume of high quality new material to consume.

I’m not quite finished with 2021 yet, though. Keep an eye out for my 2021 Anime Postmortem — Year in Review article, coming soon.

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